Walking children through their first reconciliation

By Michelle Martin | Staff writer
Sunday, March 22, 2015

Walking children through their first reconciliation

Giovanni Samayoa, a student in religious education class at Resurrection Parish, 3043 North Francisco, prays after making his first confession on March 7. (Karen Callaway/Catholic New World)
Father Dan Brandt, CPD Chaplain, hears the confession of a student on March 7. (Karen Callaway/Catholic New World)
A student smiles after making her first confession on March 7 at Resurrection church. (Karen Callaway/Catholic New World)
Andres Barajas prays after making his first confession. (Karen Callaway/Catholic New World)
Isabella Frial and Isabella Pekarek, students in religious education at Resurrection Parish, 3043 N. Francisco, go over prayers prior to making their first confession on March 7. (Karen Callaway/Catholic New World)

“Bless me, Father, for I have sinned …”

Lent is the season for confession, and in many parishes, that holds true for first confessions as well, with first confession scheduled before Easter and first Communion scheduled later in the Easter season.

While first Communion generally is a time for celebration, with fancy clothes and gifts and parties, first confession is a much more low-key affair.

Priests and catechists who prepare children to make their first confessions say it’s important to focus on the encounter with Jesus and his mercy and forgiveness, and to make sure children are thoroughly acquainted with the process ahead of time.

Barbara Antoskiewicz, director of religious education and pastoral associate at St. Ann Parish in Lansing, said she tells children preparing for first confession that it is God forgiving them.

“Sometimes we disobey God, and we go ask for forgiveness,” she said. “The priest is God’s representative, and we tell them that what is said in confession can’t ever be repeated.”

She also works with students about understanding the difference between an accident and a sin. A child might bump into someone and hurt them without meaning to, and offer apologies, but that doesn’t make it a sin. Intentionally hurting someone — or trying to — would be a sin.

Then the whole class practices a communal examination of conscience, and goes through the motions of going to confession.

Father John Szmyd, associate pastor at St. Luke Parish in River Forest, spends time in the weeks leading up to first confessions visiting children in their classrooms and sharing Scripture stories of Jesus caring for and healing people. He also talks about how Jesus told his disciples to not be afraid.

“I always emphasize that,” Szmyd said.

As the date to receive the sacrament comes closer, he has them make a “mock confession” so they can see that ritual is not so intimidating.

“I tell them they probably have less to memorize than the priest,” Szmyd said.

At Resurrection Parish, 3033 N. Francisco Ave., children who will be making a first confession have a rehearsal the week before, much like a couple about to be married have a wedding rehearsal.

The practice session includes a basket full of slips of paper with possible sins written on them. As each child approaches the pastor, Father Paul Kalchik, he or she draws a slip of paper so they have something to pretend to confess.

The made-up “sins” include those typical of childhood: “I lied to my parents” or “I cheated on a test,” he said.

Having that experience helps the whole process move more smoothly on the day of the first confession itself, which can be somewhat packed.

At Resurrection on March 7, three priests heard the confessions of about 90 first Communion candidates and about 90 confirmation candidates, as well as a handful of parishioners and parents.

The experience also helps with any nervousness the children might be feeling.

“I think that’s really more hype than reality,” Kalchik said.

If children have trouble remembering the prayers, the priests cue them along. Schools generally don’t require much rote memorization any more, Kalchik said, so sometimes memorizing the prayers is a challenge, and second- graders can’t always read well enough to learn the prayers that way.

Truth be told, most of what priests hear during first confessions falls into the category of less serious sin, but not always, priests said. But often, when something more serious comes up, it pertains to an ongoing situation in the home rather than a moral failing on the child’s part.

Just as their pastors and teachers hope the children who make their first Communion will continue to receive the sacrament, they also hope they will continue to receive the sacrament of reconciliation.

“We want them to realize this is a sacrament they can receive over and over,” he said. Sometimes children are more likely to confess regularly than their parents, at least those who attend Catholic school or religious education, where confession is generally offered and encouraged during Lent and sometimes Advent. At St. Luke, first confession generally takes place before Christmas, Szmyd said.

Building a habit is one reason to start them young, when their sins, usually, aren’t too serious.

“For a priest, it’s part of the job,” Kalchik said. “For the most part, kids are innocent. You go through the motions so when they are adults they’ll know what to do.”


  • lent
  • confession

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